True Romance

(Tony Scott, USA, 1993)


Writer, director and enfant terrible Quentin Tarantino has told the world perhaps far too clearly what his movies are all about.


From his scripts for Tony Scott's True Romance and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994) to his own films Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), Tarantino claims that his work celebrates violence not real violence but movie violence, violence as fun, fantasy, catharsis and dramatic metaphor.


This is not a new provocation within popular culture. And True Romance which is a far less interesting film than Reservoir Dogs shows how such a stance can become merely flip and empty when repeated ad nauseum on screen. Clarence (Christian Slater) is a normal guy leading an uneventful life until Alabama (Patricia Arquette) leads him into the dangerous, thrilling world of sex, drugs, money, cops and movie producers.


True Romance is a veritable cartoon which shamelessly indulges the adolescent fantasy encapsulated years ago by Jean-Luc Godard: "All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun". The film's violent scenes, some of them prolonged and brutal, have no connection whatsoever with the social stresses and strains of the real world. This disconnection is itself interesting: Tarantino, like Scorsese in The King of Comedy (1983) or Jim McBride in Breathless (1983), offers us a hero whose relation to life is entirely mediated through an almost psychotic identification with pop culture, especially icons like Elvis.


Where Tarantino directs his own material in a daringly sparse and brutally logical manner, Scott gives this film a flashy, fragmented surface, as if he were zapping between TV stations. Some of the fragments are arresting, such as the scene where Clarence's father (Dennis Hopper) offers an inspired history lecture to a sadistic hitman (Christopher Walken).


In scenes like this, Tarantino is obviously aiming for a real moment of truth true romance or true violence that could somehow put into perspective all the posturing, quoting and dreaming that determine his droll, postmodern sensibility. He should have studied Terrence Malick's classic Badlands (1973) even more closely than Hans Zimmer’s musical score suggests.

MORE Scott: Crimson Tide, Domino, The Fan, Man on Fire

© Adrian Martin June 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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